Rooney must beat Ukraine's 4th-choice keeper

Rooney must beat Ukraine's 4th-choice keeper

Published Jun. 17, 2012 3:02 p.m. ET

If Wayne Rooney is to score on his return to the England lineup on Tuesday, he will have to beat the fourth-choice goalkeeper of Ukraine.

That, however, sounds easier than it is.

Andriy Pyatov made some impressive saves in the European Championship co-host's Group D matches against Sweden and France, and was blameless for the three goals conceded.

''If it weren't for Pyatov, whose play was the only bright spot in our team, Ukraine could have been routed,'' Kiev newspaper Expres said after Friday's 2-0 defeat to France.


That result left Ukraine with a must-win game against England, which rallied to beat Sweden 3-2. England's morale will be further boosted by the prospect of Rooney's first appearance after sitting out a two-match suspension.

Pyatov wasn't even No. 1 at his club Shakhtar Donetsk just months ago. But Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin still favored him after three 'keepers were ruled out of Euro 2012 because of injury and suspension.

The 27-year-old Pyatov is used to having to fight for his place.

In 2007, he became the regular reserve with the national team for veteran goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy, who has 92 caps.

Pyatov was part of the squad that reached the quarterfinals at the 2006 World Cup, but didn't play.

At club level, Pyatov joined Shakhtar that same year but faced - and won - a long battle for the No. 1 spot with Rustam Khudzhamov.

Pyatov helped Shakhtar win the UEFA Cup in 2009 but spent much of last season in the shadow of newcomer Oleksandr Rybka, who also overtook Pyatov in the national team's hierarchy.

But in January, Rybka was banned for two years from world football following a doping offense, putting Pyatov back in the limelight. He helped Shakhtar win the national championship for a third straight year in April.

When Shovkovskiy was ruled out from Euro 2012 because of shoulder surgery, and his expected replacement Andriy Dykan from Spartak Moscow did not recover in time from a facial injury, Pyatov suddenly became Ukraine's No. 1 'keeper.

The absence of the top three keepers seemed to further weaken Ukraine's already-shaky defense. In the past 12 months, Ukraine conceded 23 goals in 12 friendly games.

However, Blokhin hasn't had to regret his choice so far.

''It's hard to single out a player who did well on the pitch because we lost 2-0,'' the coach said after the France game. ''But he played well. He did what he could and I am fully satisfied with his work.''

Pyatov wasn't really tested in the first half of his team's 2-1 win over Sweden, though he was saved by the far post after being wrongfooted by a header from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In the second half, he was left with no chance when Ibrahimovic scored the opening goal, but denied the Swedes an equalizer with several convincing saves in the last 20 minutes.

In the 2-0 defeat by France, Pyatov's performance gave Ukraine's much-criticized defense stability - but only for the first half.

He stopped a curling 20-meter effort by Gael Clichy, dived to save a shot from close range by the unmarked Jeremy Menez, and reacted quickly to push Philippe Mexes' header out of the top corner.

Though he conceded goals to Menez and Cabaye early in the second half, and later was placed well to prevent both Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri from scoring with two low shots.

After the France game, Blokhin said he hoped ''that the players understand that the Euros aren't the same level as the domestic league. You need to play every game at a high level, not just one game.''

So far, Pyatov has shown he's got the message.